During the COVID-19 pandemic, the fashion industry has been limited, along with most other things, to the length and width of a computer screen. Since very few people have the opportunity to go out and show off their clothing on a regular basis, the industry has had to adapt. Fortunately, just as other aspects of life adapted to online, fashion did, too. The industry charged into the up-and-coming digital landscape by creating pre-recorded catwalk videos for online viewing and even venturing into the world of cryptocurrencies to help keep the fashion industry alive.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs), one such form of cryptocurrency, surged in popularity in 2020 and became a valuable asset for the fashion industry. NFTs allow people to own and trade clothing in digital spaces within the metaverse, the name given to the multiplatform digital landscape that we can access through the internet. Some garments available to be bought and traded with NFTs are never actually physically produced.
In 2020, Fabricant, one of the primary creators of digital fashion, collaborated with brands like Puma, Tommy Hilfiger, and Adidas on digital campaigns to help them raise their digital profile during the pandemic. While the pieces created in these collaborations were physically produced as well as digitally traded, Fabricant envisions a future “where fashion transcends the physical body, and our digital identities permeate daily life to become the new reality.” Digital fashion, according to Fabricant’s website, is one of the first steps towards the next level of human existence within the metaverse.
Fashion is not the only good available for trade through NFTs, though. Last month, the musician Grimes digitally auctioned off a 56-second music video featuring angelic imagery to a bidder for almost $390,000 and, in the same month, graphic designer Beeple auctioned off a 10-second video of a computer-generated Donald Trump lying on the ground naked as pedestrians walk by for $6.6 million.
All forms of art are becoming popular to trade in the metaverse, but fashion pieces are still the most coveted. Many of the pieces that are created and sold digitally are not necessarily meant to be physically manufactured. In February, RTFKT Studios, a company formed during the pandemic that creates digital sneakers to be traded in the metaverse, collaborated with FEWOCiOUS, an 18-year old digital artist, on three styles of virtual sneakers. The sneakers were widely marketed through the online mens’ fashion platform Hypebeast and were supported by apps, such as Snapchat, which allowed people to “try on” the virtual sneakers before they were released. More than 600 pairs of the sneakers sold out in seven minutes, generating $3.1 million. According to Hypebeast, the auction winners have the option to redeem their NFTs for a physical pair of sneakers, although the “‘real’ value item is the digital pair.”
Other top designers like Louis Vuitton, Hublot, and Nike are already investing in their digital future. In an interview with Vogue Business, Martha Bennett, vice president of the technological research company Forrester, talked about the future of digital fashion. “Overall, there is a trend towards representing physical assets in a digital form,” she said. “I would say to a luxury house, be aware of what’s going on because if you don’t become directly involved, someone else might.”